Karen Sheppard’s name may be attached to the award, but she’s not the only winner.
“It’s not a ‘me’ award,” she says. “It’s an ‘us.’”
It’s shared by her staff at the City of Huntsville Animal Services Department and the city administration. It’s shared by residents who are among the consensus agreeing that animal lives are worth saving. It’s shared by “everybody who has ever fostered a pet, every volunteer who has come to an event, anybody who has ever adopted a pet from here,” she says.
Sheppard was recently named winner of the Maddie Hero Award, presented to 15 animal welfare leaders across the country. It was presented to advocates who are “leading the way with their innovative ideas, progressive thinking, and lifesaving actions,” according to the Maddie’s Fund foundation.
“I can’t believe I was named as one of the heroes. When I got the e-mail I had to read it two or three times,” Sheppard says. “It’s really moving. I see some of my peers in the shelter world who were honored, people I value and trust and look up to, and I don’t put myself in their category.”
We’re working really hard to save as many as we can. It’s amazing to see all these animals come in and know that pretty much all of them are going to live and find a family and move on to a happier life.”
The award also came with a $10,000 donation to Huntsville Animal Services “that will help us save treatable animals, perform surgeries, take care of puppies sick with parvo, or whatever the need may be,” Sheppard says. “It’ll go quickly, but it’s a big help.”
Maddie’s Fund was created in 1994 by David and Cheryl Duffield and named for their pet miniature schnauzer. The foundation has awarded more than $187.8 million in grants to entities leading the way in pet adoption and lifesaving.
In honoring Sheppard and the Huntsville Animal Services program, Maddie’s Fund has noted the city’s remarkable turnaround in lifesaving and in emphasizing spay-and-neuter programs.
In 2002, the shelter was receiving some 10,000 dogs and cats a year. A majority of the cats were euthanized and the save rate for dogs was only 70 percent. As affordable spay-and-neuter programs were implemented, the number of animals the shelter receives has dwindled while the save rate has risen. Now, the shelter, which serves Huntsville and all of Madison County except the City of Madison, handles half the animals it used to – only 5,000 cats and dogs a year. The live release rate for cats is 95 percent and it’s 90 percent for dogs. The only animals euthanized are those at the very end of life or those dealing with a terminal illness. Dogs that are not safe to be released to the public are the only other category euthanized.
“We’re working really hard to save as many as we can,” Sheppard says. “It’s amazing to see all these animals come in and know that pretty much all of them are going to live and find a family and move on to a happier life.”
While the recognition came with the donation already being poured into the work at the Huntsville Animal Shelter, the award was “definitely a huge community effort,” Sheppard says it also was accompanied by a certificate noting the achievement.
Laughs Sheppard, “You better believe I’m framing that baby and putting it in my office, because it means the world to me.”